University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

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Special Events – Review: 100 Telescopes in the Park

A Celebration of the International Year of Astronomy

September 25 and 26, 2009

Four hundred years ago, on some warm autumn nights in Italy, Galileo Galilei first turned his telescope toward the heavens. What he saw astounded not only him, but people around the world. In celebration of this milestone in our collective history a group of local astronomers collaborated to organize a special event for September 25 and 26 called 100 Telescopes in the Park. Planetariums, astronomy clubs, and stellar enthusiasts across Southeast Wisconsin joined together with the intent of bringing together 100 people with telescopes. They would turn their scopes to the heavens just as Galileo did, and see many of the things he himself saw—such as the rocky craters on the Moon and Jupiter with four of its moons. Attendees were encouraged to bring their telescopes to the Telescope Clinic, where experts answered their questions and advised them on how to use their instrument to its maximum potential.

Stargazing, however, is dependent on the weather conditions. Weeks of beautiful weather changed abruptly just as the weekend of September 25 and 26 approached, leaving us worried that this long-anticipated event would be rained out. The night of Friday, September 25 saw nothing but rain and cloudy skies; nevertheless, six people showed up with their telescopes for the Telescope Clinic from 6 to 7 p.m.

As the next day rolled around, everyone waited eagerly to see how the weather would evolve. To our relief the night drew on without rain and forecasts showing waning clouds. By the time the Telescope Clinic started the sky was mostly clear with the first quarter Moon visible. More and more people began to arrive until the northwest end of the field was filled with telescopes and heads alike turned upwards towards the sky.

Telescope Setup
Attendees setting up their telescopes. By the end of the night there were more than 100 on the field. Photo by Steven Meaney.

Besides the always enchanting Moon, stargazers enjoyed Jupiter and its moons, with Io casting a shadow on Jupiter for much of the evening. Planetary nebula, star clusters and even galaxies became objects of fascination among the crowds. Staff from the Manfred Olson Planetarium enjoyed seeing the Andromeda Galaxy, the Hercules globular star cluster, and Albireo, a binary star system in the constellation Cygnus.

Telescope Meade Telescope
Two of the Planetarium’s telescopes set up at 100 Telescopes in the Park: AstroScan (left) and Meade 10" (right). Photos by Steven Meaney.
Telescope Photo of the Moon
Photo of the Moon taken by Planetarium staff member Steven Meaney through the AstroScan telescope.

In addition were several activities for visitors to participate in. Starlight Scavenger Hunt cards were provided for those curious to explore all the things visible in the night sky. Todd Dezeeuw of the Sampson Planetarium showed people how to make "star wheels" out of old CDs, while Vivian Hoette from Yerkes Observatory spent the entire night helping visitors put together their very own Galileoscopes, which are telescopes similar to the ones used by Galileo (information and kits can be found at www.galileoscope.org). By the end of the evening nine happy families had completed their Galileoscopes, one of which fittingly became the last officially registered telescope brought onto the field.

The main goals of 100 Telescopes in the Park—bringing together 100 telescopes and recreating the wonder and excitement of gazing at the night sky just as Galileo did—were successfully achieved. This event also provided astronomical organizations to strengthen their ties to one another. Plus—it was a lot of fun!